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No Train No Gain

May 27, 2012

Mt. Adams from Mt. Rainier. Photo by Nikki Milonas.

It’s May.  I climb Mt Rainier in July.  Two months to be able to ascend 9000 feet in 2-3 days.  I also work full-time.  Training, working, socializing with friends.  Hmmmmm.   So, how does one accomplish such a big task in a relatively short time?  Well, Rome wasn’t built in one day, neither is training accomplished in one workout.  As I hiked a trail the other day with only a 15 lb pack, I pondered:  Will I be fit enough? Will I REALLY be able to climb Rainier?  Doubts were filling my mind. When I arrived at the summit of Mt Si in two hours, I realized, I will indeed be fit enough. That hike is 4167 feet up, 4 miles one way.  Alpine Ascents International recommends a fitness level that will allow you to ascend 3500 feet in 2-3 hours carrying a 30-40 lb pack.  I was short on the pack weight, but I made their time cutoff.  My faith was restored.

A few tips to help you out on your fitness journey:

Perseverance:  Today I didn’t have the time to drive to a trailhead and spend half the day hiking, so I did stairs instead.  284 of them to be exact, up and down, ten times.  When I went up the first time, my legs were yelling at me and I pondered once again:  Will I be able to do this?  I had set a goal of 10 ascents up the stairs, at the end of the first one, I seriously doubted that goal.  How did I make all ten?  I mixed up running a section with walking a section with cross-over running (running up the stairs semi-sideways) a section. I put pebbles at the bottom to count my ascents. I visualized coming over the summit at the top of the stairs and being so excited to be AT THE TOP.

Rest-step:  This is a special way of walking that truly conserves energy.  Practice it now for success on the mountain. For those who aren’t familiar with it, when you step forward on the trail (say, right foot forward), you bring the left foot forward in a walking motion.  When the left foot is on the ground, you pause ever so slightly and fully extend the rear leg.  This actually rests the rear leg. Check it out on Wikipedia.

This is something to be practicing now, so it becomes second nature when on the trail.  I walked up the entire flight of stairs using the rest step on more than one occasion.  When my leg muscles were feeling more rested, I would run a section.  That is how I went up 2840 stairs, and down 2840 stairs.

Pacing:  No, not pacing in your living room, but pacing on the trail.  I learned an important lesson in Nepal from the Sherpa staff:  Don’t over-walk your breathing.  Essentially, if you are getting out of breath while walking, then you are going too fast.  Quite true.  I’m all for a good  workout, but in climbing it is very important that you are able to pace yourself as that helps conserve energy for when you truly need it.  I keep that thought in my head while hiking and while running.  It doesn’t do you any good to be so out of breath that you have to stop to catch your breath.  Stopping and then starting repeatedly takes a lot of energy. That’s energy you will need.

Melissa Arnot, climber and extreme skier gives some excellent advice on preparation for climbing. While she is focused on climbing Himalayan peaks, it’s still great information and worth a read.

Thus, it’s practice, practice, practice.  Keep up the perseverance and positive mental attitude, practice the rest step, and pace yourself.   You’ll get there…and so will I.

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